National recognition for Brookes student who switched from business to nursing

Cynthia Okoli
Cynthia Okoli

When Oxford Brookes University student Cynthia Okoli moved to the UK from Nigeria she was expecting to study business administration.

But, after working as a part-time support worker on mental health wards, Cynthia was inspired to switch to an MSc in Mental Health Nursing. Now Cynthia has won national recognition after observing a clinical trial in Oxfordshire. 

Cynthia’s passion for mental health nursing grew when she worked part-time on mental health wards. There she saw the difference in mental health provision in the UK compared with Nigeria. 

She said: “I arrived in the United Kingdom in 2019 as an international student and pursued an MBA programme at the University of South Wales.

“I completed the academic requirements for the MBA in 18 months. During that time I had the privilege of interacting with an exceptional group of nurses who instilled in me the desire to pursue a career in nursing.

“In Nigeria there is little provision for mental health and still a stigma around it. My main reason for applying for a nursing course was the patients I worked with. One girl had alopecia and losing her hair left her confidence low. 

“While we were talking she found out I was wearing wigs. There is nothing wrong with my hair - I wear them because of the flexibility it gives me to experiment with different looks and styles. This patient was really excited and she helped me see how we can help people. She influenced my decision to switch to nursing.”

Cynthia undertook a Mental Health Student Hybrid (MESH) placement at the NIHR Oxford Health Clinical Research Facility on the Warneford Hospital site. 

MESH is a nursing and midwifery pilot scheme run by the National Institute for Health and Care Research which aims to provide nursing students with research experience while they are carrying out their clinical placements. 

Cynthia won the ‘Most Engaged MESH Student’ national recognition after her placement gave the opportunity to observe a clinical trial into the use of ketamine as a treatment for severe depression. Ketamine is widely known as a horse tranquiliser and a dangerous, illegal recreational drug. However, its controlled use can be beneficial to patients with depressions when other treatments haven’t worked.

Cynthia said: “I observed research into ketamine, how it works with depression and how patients react to it. I learnt about screening potential participants for the research and all of the research processes.”

Cynthia will now join the NIHR Nursing and Midwifery table at the Student Nursing Times Awards ceremony in London on 26 April to celebrate her achievements. 

Cynthia added: “I’m so excited about winning this recognition. It shows I made the right decision and I’m passionate about research into mental health and about becoming a mental health nurse.”